The CIA writes checks totaling more than $10 million every year to communications leader AT&T for access to that company’s extensive database of phone numbers, sources say.
Citing unnamed government officials, The New York Times said AT&T participates in a “voluntary contract” to give the CIA call records
of terrorist suspects. A CIA spokesperson would not confirm if the program exists.
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The source told the Times there are strict “safeguards” on the program, and many calls are international calls that take place outside the U.S. If an international call is made to or from the United States, then the American’s name and number is blocked, the source said. By law, the CIA is not allowed to spy on Americans on domestic soil.
The revelation of such a contract with AT&T comes as the U.S. government has been roundly criticized at home and abroad for its spying programs after information was leaked by Edward Snowden.
“We value our customers’ privacy and work hard to protect it by ensuring compliance with the law in all respects,” an AT&T spokesperson told the Times. “We do not comment on questions concerning national security.”
Another unnamed source, which the Times called a “senior American intelligence official,” told the newspaper that the CIA must have “a certain speed, agility and tactical responsiveness that differs” from other agencies, such as the National Security Agency, to deal with potential terrorists.
NPR reported that AT&T mailed out an updated statement on the issue,
saying, “In all cases, whenever any governmental entity anywhere seeks information from us, we ensure that the request and our response are completely lawful and proper. We ensure that we maintain customer information in compliance with the laws of the United States and other countries where information may be maintained. Like all telecom providers, we routinely charge governments for producing the information provided. We do not comment on questions concerning national security.”
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